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Taking over the reins in tougher times

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

2-36Critical Power (CP): Where did you work before Kohler?

Larry Bryce (LB): I’ve had a series of different jobs in different continents. Most recently I was at Manitowoc, responsible for construction cranes in all the Americas, Europe and Asia, including global aftermarket, also acquisitions and global marketing for the seven different crane lines they offered. I was with them for eight years. 

Prior to Manitowoc, I was with John Deere Power Systems where I was Global Sales Director for engines and drivetrains. In that position, I lived for three-and-a-half years in France selling G-Drive engines to genset companies all over the world. 

So I had exposure selling to SDMO, which of course Kohler owns, but also to Kohler Power Systems itself. Prior to John Deere I was with Square D for eight years, covering the switchgear side. With Square D, I spent three-and-a-half years in Beijing. I have a lot of stamps in my passport!

CP: What is your jurisdiction as president of Kohler Power Systems? 

LB: We have two main groups of power generation at Kohler, Kohler Power Systems and SDMO. My counterpart at SDMO and I both report to Dick Fotch, Kohler Global Power Group President. SDMO has responsibility for Europe, Africa and South America. Kohler Power Systems has responsibility for North America and Asia. I also have responsibility for the global marine business.

SDMO is run like a separate company but obviously there are a lot of synergies when we look at the design of gensets, control systems, optimisation of the supply chain and our coverage of customers around the world. We work very closely together and when we present our strategic plans, we present them together.

CP: What will you bring to the party at Kohler Power Systems? 

LB: When we look at designing gensets we look at the efficiency of the machine, the noise and vibrations, the emissions and the application to make sure it’s the best fit. One of the key things that I bring to the party is the alignment of our commercial activities with our global operational activities to make sure we are leveraging and targeting appropriately our key customers and key segments.

We have certain key strengths. We are focused 100% on power generation. We are not deviated to build tractors or backhoes or anything else. We are completely focused on power generation. Getting that alignment of our global activities will bring us a good competitive advantage in the market.

CP: Are you looking to change things? Are you happy with the way things are?

LB: As a business, Kohler is never happy. We are always striving to become better, to innovate and create better solutions for our customers.

As a company, Kohler has always been on the leading edge of innovation. We have some key advantages in that we make and understand engines, we make and understand alternators, we make and understand switchgear in multiple locations around the world. Most of our competitors do not and none of them do as a wholly independently-owned entity.

There are several key things that we have the capability in providing integrated power solutions. That’s providing the end-to-end solution from the genset components to the switchgear. In many cases Kohler Power Systems has capitalised on these strengths, but I think that there is a lot of upside of how we leverage around the world, including the North American market.

CP: Are there any new products in the offing?

2-37aLB: We’ve just come up with some new generators we launched in India with our Lombardini line. We have a new partner in delivering these new products, which we have developed in the 5 kVA diesel and 14 kW gas range for specific applications within the telecoms market. 

This was driven by customer demand. What you will find around the world with Kohler is that we will look at developing specific solutions for whenever we find a customer with specific needs. That is how you add differential to the market.

2-37bThere are of course alternative fuels to diesel such as biodiesel and biogas, and we are into those in a strong way. Our entire range of diesel engines is under tightened government regulations around the world. The regulatory regime has been a key driver of genset design and technology over the past decade.

SDMO has entered the renewable energy space by introducing the concept aimed at developing the production of electricity from gensets combined with solar panels and energy storage batteries. 

CP: What are the current hot markets for Kohler right now? Where are you targeting growth?

LB: Due to global economic conditions it is a tougher market right now in many of our markets in Europe and North America, but healthcare and data centres/telecommunications are two sectors which haven’t been as badly hit. Globally there is tighter credit, causing projects to take longer to gain approval. Having said that, some markets have higher growth than others. 

2-38bIt’s no secret that China, South America and India are experiencing higher growth and there is a lot of opportunity there, but there are still lots of opportunities in our home markets too. It’s not just about economic growth, it’s also about market share and capture. There’s two ways you can go about capturing the market and I think we can simultaneously do both. 

For example, UPSL and Kohler Power Systems share an office in Singapore, we share leads and often do team sales when we visit customers. Selling both gensets and UPS to the market offers us a huge competitive advantage, as well as offering competitive solutions to the customer.

We have just acquired Maquigeral, a Brazilian generator manufacturer. Their headquarters are in São Paulo– they are a 50-year-old company with established sales channels and a primary player in the market. They have a genset product line from 30 to 750 kVA and also supply UPS services. They cover all the countries in South America, which is the key place to be right now. 

Africa is another important market. Despite enormous natural resources, many countries in Africa have very poor grid infrastructure. Kohler has a strong presence in Africa, this dates back before we even acquired SDMO. But SDMO has a particularly large exposure to Africa and given the historical connection of France to West African countries, it has given them an excellent foothold in the market. 

CP: What is working for Kohler like?

LB: I have been around the Kohler company for nearly 20 years before I joined. I moved to Kohler, Wisconsin eight years ago when I was with Manitowoc, so I have had additional exposure to the company! 

It’s a very well-run company, very solid management. It has fairly conservative values but they are extremely customer-focused. Their decisions are based on innovation and quality, but it is definitely market-driven. That’s reflected across their product lines.

Being a private company they take a strategic approach to the markets and a strategic approach to customers. It’s a longer term approach. Coming from the publicly-listed sector I find this very refreshing because you truly do what’s best for the market with the long-term health of the company in mind instead of trying to manage quarter by quarter. That’s a very positive aspect of Kohler.

David Kohler, the President of the company, is very hands-on and the family is actively involved in the business. They are very knowledgeable and details-driven. They are certainly not passive management. They are the number one salespeople for the company no matter which product they are selling. Kohler is certainly not a ‘board of one’. A board of one may last, at best, for a generation. This company has thrived over 180 years. This is way longer than most public companies.